Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pot-au-feu beef stew

Believe it or not, "sunny vale" can get cold and cloudy... This always comes as a shock after 8 months of ever-blue skies. We had our first rain shower two weeks ago. Then sunshine again (birds started singing like in springtime -they have no patience) but as I am writing this post, the call for a lazy afternoon by a wood fire, sipping hot tea while reading a magazine, is getting stronger and stronger. But before I slip into warm coziness, let me give you the recipe for pot-au-feu (literally: "pot in the fire"): a traditional wintry beef stew. This one was inspired by my 1991 edition of Larousse de la Cuisine (that my grand-mother offered me when I graduated junior high...). My mom's recipe (that I learned after cooking this one) is slightly different. I'll give it at the end of this post.
I can't describe how good pot-au-feu tastes. The meats and vegetables and so soft; the broth is so warming and fragrant. Pot-au-feu's flavors evoke so many childhood memories!


For 6 people:
Cooking time (total): 4 hours
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef short plate ("plat-de-côte")
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef shank ("gîte")
  • 600 grams (1.5 pounds) beef brisket ("macreuse")
You would also usually add marrow bones ("os à moëlle")... given that you find some. The cooked marrow can be spread like butter on toasted bread.
There are good beef cuts diagrams here and here.


  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves ("clous de girofle")
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • "bouquet garni": bay leaf, sprigs of thyme and fresh italian (flat-leaf) parsley tied together with kitchen string
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp coarse sea salt
  • 4 carrots
  • 3 turnips ("navets")
  • 3 parsnips ("panais")
  • 3 leeks
  • 4-6 branches of celery
  1. Pour 2 liters (1/2 gallon) cold water in a (very) large pot (preferably cast iron). Place the whole short plate in the water. Bring to a boil. After 10 minutes, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
  2. Add the two other pieces of meat (whole), the onion (whole, peeled, with cloves nailed in it), garlic (whole cloves, peeled and crushed), herb bouquet, peppercorns and salt. Bring to a boil, skim then reduce heat again and simmer for 2 hours without a lid.
  3. Add the carrots and parsnips (peeled and cut in 3 lengthwise), turnips (peeled and cut in 4 crosswise), leeks (dark, hard ends removed, cut in 4 crosswise, rinsed and tied together - or one by one- with kitchen string) and celery (in 1-inch chunks). Cook slowly for another hour.
  4. If you are lucky and find marrow bones, poach them in slightly salted water 20 minutes before the end.

The broth is usually served separately from the meat and vegetables (as shown in the pictures). The broth can be filtered (through a fine sieve). Serve as hot as possible with mayonnaise (home made that is...), mustards (Dijon extra strong or whole grain) and toasted bread.


My Mom tells me that placing the meat in already boiling water keeps it more tender and flavorful than starting from cold water. She uses beef shank ("jarret") and short plate ("plat-de-côte"). She only cooks it for 2 hours total, adds the vegetables mid-way through and a few potatoes (peeled and cut in 4 or 6 pieces) half-an-hour before the end. She doesn't use parsnips (I had never eaten parsnips before this time, actually).


21 comments:

Kisa said...

Your pot-au-feu looks wonderful! Here (in Seattle) the weather has already become quite dreadful (with our famous rain and cold temperatures), and making something hot and delicious sounds great :)

bcinfrance said...

I love pot-au-feu too -- it's still a little too warm here to make it, though. My parents have told me, though, that in Washington State (see kisa's comment) temps are already below freezing! So it would be good to make there...

Susan in Italy said...

Your photos are just great! It's getting chilly here in Milan, so I'm looking for a good, warm meal. When you use marrow bones, do you tie them so that the marrow can't fall out during cooking? I've seen cooked strips of the green part of the leek as ties.

Estelle said...

Hi guys,
Thank you all for your comments. The weather was back to "normal" (sunny and warm) after I wrote this post... But on Monday we lost 10 degrees overnight! Pot-au-feu is appropriate again...
Susan, I don't usually tie the marrow bones but the leek greens idea sounds really clever!
Happy November everyone!

Anonymous said...

La recette a l'air delicieuse, ca me rappelle les dimanches soirs au coin du feu :-) Ou as-tu trouve tes differentes coupes de boeuf ? Whole foods ?

Estelle said...

Eh oui, Whole Foods bien sur ! :-)

Anonymous said...

Ah parfait, le nouveau Whole Foods sur El Camino a Mountain View a une selection incroyable. A quand une recette de Buche de Noel :-) ?

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Jann said...

this is one of my favorites-you did such a wonderful job, can smell it cooking!

astridcmoi said...

hum un bon pot au feu quand il fait bien froid c'est un regal avec tous ces légumes et avec la viande on fait un hachis parmentier

Anonymous said...

Thanksgiving is getting close, are we gonna have your version of the thanksgiving fare ? I am trying to figure out what to make :-)

Estelle said...

Thanks everyone for your latest comments!
Unfortunately I'm swamped with work and I won't have time to post any new recipe before Thanksgiving... Don't know what I would suggest, though, because this is an American tradition that I discovered when I moved here.
We're going to a potluck party on Thursday and the only requirement is "bring whatever you like as long as it tastes good"! :-)
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Mom said...

Hi-- Here I am in the Val d'Isere, and I found your recipe for Pot au Feu on Google. It's fabulous! Et merci aussi pour la terminologie en francais dees coupes de viande.

Lois

Anonymous said...

Hi, I know this recipe because I am an American living in France. So of course, I have a "Larousse"! This is exactly the recipe I make, in fact I made one today! I use a brisket, and I let it cook for 3-4 hours total. I use parsnips, turnips, rudabegas, "jerusalem artichiokes", carrots, celery and leaks. I use 3-5 cloves or garlic and I cook the "os a moelle" in the oven in a bit of water 20 minutes before the recipe is done. I put the brisket in cold water, bring it to a boil, boil it for 10 minutes, skimming the gunk off that forms. then I continue with the recipe. Bon appétit!!!

Anonymous said...

Merci pour une super recette que je vais essayer de ce pas. J'ai aussi trouvé tres utile la planche avec les morceaux de boeuf, je vais la montrer à mon boucher britannique pour essayer d'avoir les bons morceaux.

Audubon Ron said...

I will cook it. Looks great.

fodla is my home girl said...

Hello
We are at the end of a very long and hot summer and I am SICK of salads and summmer stuff so although it is still warm, i just wanted this, so I compromised and did the same with a chicken, closed the door, pretended it was winter and felt so much better. Thank you

Anonymous said...

hello! thanks for the great recipe. my friend and i had to find a french recipe, special from a french province, and prepare it! (as well as translate the recipe into french) this is all for a project for our french 2 class! hopefully it turns out as well as yours did! Merci!

David said...

Now that our southern hemisphere winter is really here, I was idly thinking about something warming to cook. Googled pot au feu and your page was 1st recipe hit. AND I know someone in Sunnyvale, so it just announced itself as the weekend's meal.

As usual, read a lot - your page, Plats du Jour, Anthony Bourdain, and - first, last and always, Elizabeth David. Followed your recipes quantities pretty much, interpolating Australian meat cuts - chuck, shank - and basically Elizabeth David's method.

Result: a huge bowl of warming, steaming broth and some lovely meaty bits. It's been too long since I have made this! I'll be cooking it again before winter is over ...

Deborah said...

My kitchen smells magnificent thanks to your recipe!
I had no clue what to do with a package of boiling beef and a meaty soup bone from our neighbor. Your recipe inspired me. I didn't bundle the herbs but they were just as happy to float and mingle. Never having cooked either parsnips or turnips before, I made the mistake of cutting them in smaller pieces and they got a bit mushy. That won't happen again! Even still, it was delicious! Absolutely succulent. No crusty bread at home so I toasted onion bagels. A great alternative.
Many thanks. Deborah in Wisconsin

Corinne said...

J'adore le Pot au Feu, tant de bon souvenirs. En plus de la viande de boeuf, j'ajoute aussi des jarrets de veau. Je sers le tout avec une bonne sauce tomate.
Bien sur le bouillon est delicieux en lui meme, mais vous pouvez aussi ajouter du Vermicelle, ou des perles du japon. Bonne idee pour le week end coming up, apres tout il fait froid a Las Vegas!